With the onset of warmer weather, more Alaskans are taking to the outdoors where firearm protection can be necessary. But officials contend it’s also imperative to know how to safely use a firearm and understand what consequences exist if those rules are broken.
Two recent incidents have brought to light the importance of gun safety — two Soldotna men were injured last week when a pistol one of them was disassembling discharged and a teenager was also recently injured after shooting himself in the leg while at a large drinking party.
Megan Peters, Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman, said it is important to remind teens that while firearms have legitimate summertime purposes, such as protection against wildlife, the number one thing to remember is that alcohol and guns do not mix — ever.
“A lot of times logic goes out the window when alcohol comes into play,” she said.
Unsafe use of firearms, possession of a firearm without adult consent, as well as the introduction of alcohol or controlled substances to activities involving firearms can set teens up for varied levels of charges of misconduct involving weapons.
Peters said pointing a gun at someone, in a joking or threatening way, has a consequence.
“You don’t have to have a bullet in the chamber for that to become an assault charge,” she said.
Peters also urged teens, armed or otherwise, not to travel alone when enjoying Alaska’s wilderness.
“It is a great idea to travel in pairs,” she said.
Another good tip is to share travel plans with someone in case of an emergency.
“It is also a good idea to let people know what kind of gear you have with you,” she said.
Freedom and fun from school in the summer months can mean more young children are visiting or sleeping over at friends’ homes.
Kenai Police Chief Gus Sandahl stressed the importance of parents talking to kids about gun safety.
“I think parents should talk to their children about what to do if the child is staying at a friend’s house and the child comes across an unsecure firearm,” he said in an email. “This possibility exists in our community, especially during the summer when people are carrying handguns more frequently as they travel into the wilderness. For example, a hiker could return from the mountains and leave a holstered .44 magnum within reach of a visiting child.”
Sandahl said talking to and listening to children about gun safety is important.
“Parents should teach their children to treat all guns as if they are always loaded,” he said. “Parents can quiz their child and ask them what they would do if they found a pistol resting on a counter at a friend’s house. Hopefully the child will answer, ‘Don’t touch it. Tell an adult. If I don’t feel safe I’ll call mom or dad.’
“Other children might be curious and might want to handle the gun, so children should be prepared to assertively tell their friend to not touch it or to put it down. If a child doesn’t feel safe they should move away from the gun and call their parents,” he said.
For Sandahl, the topic of gun safety hits close to home.
“I faced a situation similar to these scenarios when I was about 12, and I had to back away, rapidly taking cover while assertively telling my friend to knock it off as he treated the revolver like a toy. It didn’t happen again after that,” he said.
Christine Cunningham is a volunteer with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Hunter Education Program. The program provides instruction on hunter safety and live fire during the required field day.
“It is a good practice to take those classes,” she said.
She said in terms of firearm safety, there are four main rules to remember.
■ Treat a gun as if it is loaded and handle it as so.
■ Never let the muzzle cover anything you’re not willing to destroy.
■ Keep your finger off the trigger until the sights are on the target and you have made the decision to shoot.
■ Be sure of your target, as well as your surroundings.
Cunningham said while Hollywood movies often highlight a shooter with their finger on the trigger, imitating that is not safe.
“It is just a bad practice and it’s not real,” she said.
Elaina Spraker, Kenai Peninsula Women on Target clinic director, also stressed the importance for teens, especially females, to know gun safety.
Spraker, along with husband Ted and several other coaches, host clinics throughout the year to properly instruct teen girls and women on firearm safety and use.
With the Teens on Target clinics, Spraker said girls ages 13 to 17 train and learn to safely shoot shotguns, pistols and rifles.
“We, in Alaska, live in a heavy gun culture,” she said.
She said the classes are important to help instruct teens today so that later in life they will be comfortable around firearms, no matter the setting.
“They are going to be exposed to guns,” she said. “Now they will be properly trained.”
The eight-week Target on Teens classes is held each spring for teen girls and summer clinics are held for women.
“At the end of the day our goal is to make females, 13 to 80, confident, safe and skilled,” she said.
Sara J. Hardan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.